A massive flaw in a new generation of speed camera means that motorists can avoid fines and points on their licence simply by changing lanes.
The Home Office admitted last night that drivers can avoid being caught the by hi-tech ‘SPECS’ cameras which calculate a car’s average speed over a long distance.
The astonishing loophole means that millions of speeding drivers around the UK could escape a £60 fine and three points on their licence. The hidden blind spot, revealed by the Daily Mail raises questions about the supposedly foolproof hi-tech camera system which is increasingly used on Britain’s roads.
Although designed to improve road safety, the loophole means that drivers may actually increase the risk of accidents by continually switching lanes.
Police chiefs were last night forced to urge drivers not to exploit the shortcoming by trying to evade the cameras.
The flaw affects the controversial SPECS cameras. Unlike standard Gatso cameras which individually flash a car as it passes, these cameras measure a driver’s average speed between two fixed points which can be many miles apart.
If the average speed between cameras is higher than the speed limit, the driver gets a fine through the post and three points on their licence.
The cameras were designed to catch motorists who simply slow down in front of a camera, and then drive above the speed limit until they reach the next one.
But, under Home Office rules governing the camera equipment, prosecutions are only valid if a driver is filmed in the same lane at the start and finish of each section by a linked pair of cameras.
The Home Office admitted yesterday that the hi-tech SPECS cameras produced by Camberley based Speed Check Services are only approved to be used one lane at a time.
That means a three lane motorway would require three separate sets of cameras one for each lane. If drivers leave the speed camera zone via a different lane to the one they entered in, they cannot normally be prosecuted.
The camera’s manufacturers, Speed Check Services (SCS) confirmed that drivers could escape prosecution by lane hopping but discouraged it on ’safety’ grounds.
Sets of the cameras have been installed at 27 sites around the UK at a cost of between £180,000 and £1.5 million per site according to Geoff Collins, SCS’s sales and marketing manager.
Fourteen of the sites are permanent while another 13 are temporary at road works, where their presence has mushroomed in recent years. Sites that run for longer distances cost more because they need more cameras.
They include permanent cameras around Nottingham, a 20mph zone around Tower Bridge in London, the M8 between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and at roadworks on the M6 in the West Midlands, the M25, the A1(M) and the M1 in Hertfordshire, the A2 in Kent, and the M56 in Cheshire.
The SPECS cameras work by measuring the time a vehicle takes to pass between two number plate reading cameras set up to 6.2 miles apart.
A computer works out the time it takes to cover the distance, and then calculates the average speed.
If this is higher than the speed limit, a colour photograph taken by a third digital camera is stored for enforcement purposes. Multiple sets of the cameras are installed on stretches of road to make ‘enforcement zones’.
But under Home Office ‘type approval’ rules, each individual set cannot be linked to any of the others. So cars are timed only between sets of number plate readers ‘paired’ for the same lane.
Most of the time each number plate reader in a pair will be directed at the same single lane of traffic and will therefore not detect lane hoppers, according to Mr Collins. He said:’ If it’s configured to monitor one particular lane, then it wouldn’t pick up a lane changer.’
He added: ‘There are configurations when (a speeding vehicle) would not be picked up, if it’s gone from lane one to lane three between cameras.’
The company’s technical director Graeme Southwood said that when the devices were approved by the Home Office in 1999, they passed strict tests for use in one lane at a time. But there was not enough time or finances to extend Home office approval tests to cover the cameras’ use over two or three lanes at a time. This has created the loop-hole.
He still claimed without spelling out any detail, that this loop hole was not actually foolproof and that some of those who attempt to use it will still face a speeding prosecution.
Med Hughes, head of roads policing for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said it would be ‘irresponsible’ and dangerous for drivers to change lanes in a bid to avoid detection, adding that motorists would ‘not be able to guarantee’ they could avoid being penalised if they changed lanes.
Mr Hughes, Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, said: ‘Motorists who change lanes in average speed detection lanes, such as major road works, will not be able to guarantee avoiding detection. Multiple enforcement systems are often used and detection zones will vary depending on the placement of the equipment.’
‘Motorists are strongly advised not to seek to evade detection by unnecessarily changing lanes as this would generate a greater risk of collision and may lead to other offences being committed which the police may prosecute.
‘These camera systems are designed to make our roads safer by reducing speed and casualties. It is irresponsible for motorists to deliberately seek to evade detection and speed.’
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: ‘The manufacturers applied for the camera to be type-approved to measure one lane only. It has been type-approved for this use, this can be either the lane under the camera or a lane to either side of it.’
‘A SPECS camera measures a vehicles speed over distance in one lane.’
Motoring groups say police are putting too much reliance on cash-raising speed cameras which can fine a driver a few miles above the speed limit - but are unable to spot a dangerous, drunk, uninsured, or untaxed driver in an unroadworthy or stolen vehicle who is driving under the speed limit.
Last year more than 2 million motorists were caught speeding on camera, raising £120m a year in revenue for so-called ‘Safety Camera Partnerships’ comprising police, magistrates councils and road safety groups.
Speed cameras have boomed on British roads from a handful a decade ago to 3,300 fixed sites and 3,400 mobile devices today. At the same time there has been an 11 per cent cut in police patrols.
Edmund King, director of the RAC Foundation, said: ‘I think the danger might be that you get people playing Russian Roulette and nipping from one lane to another to lessen their odds of being caught. They won’t know entirely but they might think there’s more chance.’
SPECS speed cameras and how to avoid the points
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23 April 2009
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